Sunday, October 30, 2011

Is There a Steve Jobs of Health Care?

The true genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to some particular direction.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

So was Mr. Jobs smart? Not conventionally. Instead he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and sometimes magical. They were intuitive, not analytic rigor. Trained in Zen Buddhism, he came to value experiential wisdom over empirical analysis. He didn’t study data or crunch numbers but like a pathfinder, he could sniff the winds and sense what lie ahead.

"The Genius of Jobs", by Walter Isaacson, Author of Steve Jobs, New York Times, October 30, 2011

October 30, 2011 – Steve Jobs was a mad genius – part poet, part artist, part technologist, part visionary, part bully.

He lived, thrived, and died at the intersection between the humanities and technology. He believed in disciplined creativity, in simplicity of design where “less was more,” in bending reality to meet his vision,in inspiring people by insulting them, in emagineering over engineering, in sustained innovation over the long haul,but most of all, in showing all of us our future before we ourselves realized what it was.

In Jobs’ words,

“Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

And so he did. He gave people products they could understand before they understood them. He integrated hardware and software, the humanities and technology, poetry and engineering.

Nature, he knew, loved simplicity and unity, and he gave them both with a string of imaginative products.

• The Apple II, the first personal computer not just for hobbyists.

• The Macintosh, which launched the home computer revolution and popularized graphical user interfaces.

Toy Story and other Pixar blockbusters, which opened the miracle of digital imagination.

• Apple stores, which reinvented the role of a store in defining a brand.

• The iPod, which changed the way we consume music.

• The iTunes store, which saved the music industry.

• The iPhone, which turned mobile phones into music, photography, email, and web devices.

• The App store, which spawned a new content-creation industry.

• The iPad, which launched tablet computing and offered a platform for digital newspapers, magazines, books, and videos.

• iCloud. Which demoted the computers from its central rol in managing our content and let all of our devices sync seamlessly.

• And Apple itself, which Jbos considered his greatest achievement, a place where imagination was nurtured, applied, and executed in ways so creative that it became the most valuable company on earth.

A Bit of An Asshole

He did all of this while being, in his words, “a bit of an asshole,” often brutal, rude, uncompromising, and cold in this relationships. He knew what he wanted, and knew humanity needed what he wanted. He did not let anything stand in the way of his dream, even it might bending the truth and ignoring reality as seen by others. He did not believe the rules applied to him, which is why he drove his Mercedes without license plates, parked in slots reserved for the handicapped, and drove incessantly over the speed limit.

Here is how Isaacson describes his book and Jobs’ contribution to society,

This is a book about the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries : personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computers, and digital publishing. You might even add a seventh, retail stores. In addition, it opened the way for a new market for digital content based on apps rather than just websites.

My Read

As I read the book, I asked myself: Is there a Steve Jobs in health care?
• Is there some towering Machiavellian figure out there who can drive the health care system through information technologies to integrate its humanistic side (The Art if Medicine) to integrate with the scientific side (The Science of Medicine).

• Is there someone with the creativity and resources to put humanity and technology together in a form most of us will accept and embrace?

• Is there someone who appreciates the “fiendish complexity” of medicine often comes down to the essential simplicity of the healing relationship of doctor and patient?

• Is there someone who relies on intuition and focuses like on what patients want and will embrace rather than on what the system provides?

• Is it possible that this person, combining political, leadership, artistic, aesthetic, showmanship, and technological skills can develop a digital technology system that informs us all and moves us all to higher ground?

Not That I See

I doubt if there is such a person. There may not need to be. The vision of Steve Jobs is already pushing us towards integrating software and hardware towards the humanistic uses of technology. What is missing is simplicity in design of the system.

To take an obvious example, I believe it is possible to simplify electronic health records by letting patients enter their own data and histories electronically, by making it easy for doctors to enter their humanistic and scientific interpretations electronically through improved speech recognition technologies, for patients to enter the exam room with the differential diagnosis spelled out, for patients to leave their doctor encounter with their complete medical history and treatment plan in hand.I believe it is possible for doctors and patients to communicate by Skpe and by email between physical encounters.

This will not be easy. Google has already given up on its project to digitize Patient Electronic Records, but Google working behind the scenes with Microsoft to reintroduce PHRs.

The stakes to integrate and humanize doctor-patient digital information exchange to the benefit of both and for society are enormous, but it make take another Steve Jobs to make it happen.

Tweet: Steve Jobs’legacy? He integrated the humanities and technologies and showed us what was possible and what we needed before we knew it.


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